The White Paradise on the Bolivian Altiplano
Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni salt flat), the world’s largest salt lake, is a visually captivating place and one of the most stunningly beautiful places you will ever see in Bolivia or South America. It is roughly 25 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States and is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt, with less than 25,000 tons extracted annually.
At an altitude of 3,656 meters (11,995 feet) above sea level, the Uyuni salt flat covers an astonishing 10,582 square kilometres (4,086 squares miles). It is located in the Potosi and Oruro regions in south-western Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes. The Uyuni salt flat was formed as a result of transformations between several pre-historic lakes. Some 40,000 years ago, the area was part of Lake Minchin, a gigantic pre-historic lake. When the lake dried up, it left behind two modern lakes: Poopo and UruUru. Also, two major salt “deserts” were created as a result of this process: the Salar de Coipasa and the much larger Salar de Uyuni.
The Uyuni salt flat is covered by a salt crust a few meters thick, and is exceedingly flat. The average altitude varies by just one meter over the entire area of the lake. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. The Uyuni salt flat is deemed to contain 50-70% of the world’s lithium reserves. The large area, clear skies and exceptional surface flatness make the Uyuni salt flat an ideal object for calibrating the altitude of Earth observation satellites.
The Uyuni salt flat hides several gems and surrealistic landscapes.
La Isla del Pescado (Fish Island), so named because the small island of land has the shape of a fish, is located on the salt flat. The island is completely covered by giant cactus and is the only sign of life for miles.
In the National Reserve Eduardo Avaroa, we find Laguna Verde and Laguna Colorada. Located at approximately 4,300 meters (14,000 ft) above sea level, the Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon) is a beautiful green-coloured salt lake close to the Chilean border and at the foot of the Licancabur volcano, 5,930 meters (19,455 feet) high. Its lovely green colour is the result of sediments containing copper minerals.
Laguna Colorada is a red-coloured salt lake, so coloured (as you might guess) due to the presence of minerals in the water. Every November, these lagoons are also the breeding grounds for three species of South American flamingos: Chilean, James’s and Andean. The presence of the flamingos creates a captivating scene.
Other major stops are: Sol de Mañana geyser basin with boiling mud pots and sulphurous fumaroles which sit at 4,950 meters (16,240 feet); and the 4,200 meters high (13,779 feet) site of the astonishing Termas de Polques (hot springs) where one can have a relaxing dip in the30˚ (86˚Fahrenheit) sulphurous waters.